In the area of foreign policy, an American president has significant power to set the direction and emphasis. But the rambunctious nature of American democracy makes it difficult for any single administration to pursue a grand design. The Bush administration has encountered predictable hurdles in dealing with the myriad of individuals and groups who have a vested interest in America's Asian strategy.
However, while there may be no "grand" design, there is a design. The present administration has embarked on a realist approach to the region that is compatible with historical trends in American overseas engagement. First, the US aims to maintain the superiority of American military power in the region as part of its stabilisation policy. Second, the US seeks to ensure open access to the economies of the region in order to further business opportunities for its residents. Finally, there is evidence America wishes to encourage the emergence of democracies as part of its ideological push.
In writing of America's "grand design" in Asia, Twining (2007) refers to the strengthening of the "hub and spoke" system of bilateral military alliances, the revitalisation of forward defence, and strategic counterbalancing of China through providing financial assistance to "[a] concert of Asia-Pacific democracies".
Bilateral military alliances form the bedrock of American security involvement in Asia. They provide much needed stability - it is important for US officials to know they can depend upon military cooperation in the event of a crisis. One such alliance is with Australia. Under the ANZUS Treaty, the US and Australia share intelligence, conduct military training exercises and buy/sell defence equipment. The relationship has extended to Australia agreeing to become involved in America's missile defence system. The US draws on bilateral links to achieve objectives in other regions. For instance, Article IV of the ANZUS Treaty was invoked after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and formed the basis of the Australian contribution in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are approximately 100,000 American troops stationed throughout Asia as part of the forward defence strategy. This is to maintain a presence that would allow quick maneuverability of US forces when needed, as the Gulf War in 1991 demonstrated. Japan provides financial assistance for American-led UN operations and contributes to the upkeep of America's troop presence on its soil. South Korea has permitted thousands of US troops to remain on the 38th parallel to secure its own, and American, interests in relation to North Korea. The Philippines has been closely associated with the US in the war on terrorism, and contributed military forces to the Iraq war for a brief period. The cooperation of these countries, as well as others such as Thailand, allow American troops to counter threats in the region as they arise.
Strategic counter-balancing is pursued by facilitating the rise of emerging democratic powers to offset China. As the 2006 National Security Strategy (NSS) notes, "Our strategy seeks to encourage China to make the right strategic choices for its people, while we hedge against other possibilities". India is one candidate for American assistance, with a civilian nuclear deal being concluded in 2007. Indonesia as a Muslim dominated country is a front in the "War on Terror", engages in counter-terrorism and military cooperation, and is being cultivated as a friend, if not an ally. Normalisation of relations and the strengthening of the security relationship with Vietnam is an indication America is seeking to contain China without explicitly stating this objective. Vietnam's historical animosity towards China is likely to be attractive to the US. In East Asia, the US is pressuring Japan to become a more strident security partner in the region. Japan, which departed from a narrow interpretation of its constitution when it permitted 2,000 military personnel abroad in 1992, has with American encouragement now sent engineers to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq. These initiatives are evidence of American design in relation to hedging against a possible Chinese threat.
Business links have grown as Asian economies have pursued microeconomic reform. Just over 20% of American exports go to the Asia-Pacific, while 33% of its imports originate from there. Engagement has been at both bilateral and multilateral levels. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are the preferred tool in bilateral arrangements. The US has ratified FTAs with Singapore and Australia. A FTA with South Korea is currently pending Congressional approval, while FTAs with Malaysia and Thailand are under negotiation.
Multilateral engagement is possible through membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Using WTO structures, the US has pursued a policy of economic engagement seeking to reduce tariff and non-tariff trade barriers. Another key multilateral arena is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. As a member, the US is bound by the Bogor goals agreed to by APEC member nations. These goals state that all developed nations must reduce tariffs to 5% or less by 2010, and all developing nations by 2020. This is likely to further integrate the US with Asia.
The 2002 NSS provides evidence of the Bush administration's belief in the democratic peace thesis. With 28 references to the words "freedom", "free" and "liberty" in the introduction, the document reaffirms the ideological content of American foreign policy. It reflects the present administration's view that the best means of defending liberty at home is to promote liberty abroad.
The US utilises foreign aid to promote democracy. Since the "War on Terror" began, the US has dramatically increased aid in East and South Asia. A focus of America's Wilsonian design is the encouragement, through diplomatic means, of pro-democracy groups in various authoritarian nations in Asia. China received approximately $23 million in 2006 for democracy, human rights and rule of law programs. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is used to tie developmental aid to economic and political liberalisation. Another method is the usage of sanctions, which are intended to send a strong rebuke to oppressive regimes.